Mac’s Message #18: The Patrol Method—A Leadership Laboratory

by | Jan 20, 2015

Mac McIntire

Mac McIntire

As you look at the Scouting boys under your stewardship can you visualize them as future missionaries with supervisory responsibility as a district or zone leader? Can you see them as assistants to the mission president or, possibly, as a branch president or counselor in some remote location in a far-off country? How will you help your young men acquire the leadership skills they will need in these roles?

The Boy Scouts of America offers a wonderful incubator in which to nurture a young man’s leadership skills. It can be found in one of the Methods of Scouting—the patrol method.

I encourage you to organize your Boy Scouts into patrol units, even if there are only a few boys in your troop. Varsity teams and Venturing crews mirror the patrol structure and are equally effective in providing boys with leadership opportunities if you mimic the patrol method.

From experience I know boys love to be in charge. They enjoy working together, planning, and making decisions about the activities they will do and how they will do them. They are fully capable of sharing responsibility, resolving problems, working things out, and operating together as a patrol unit. Boys have a marvelous creativity and enthusiasm when empowered to set their own course. Most important, they form a bond of brotherhood, a sense of belonging, an esprit de corps, and unity of focus when organized into a patrol unit. This cannot happen if the adult leader is governing the affairs of the unit rather than the boys themselves.

There is something magical that happens when the boys huddle together to identify their patrol name, patrol motto, patrol yell, and patrol flag. I marvel at the democratic process when the boys discuss and then vote to determine these things. I’m constantly amazed at how innovative and imaginative they can be when they determine their patrol motto and design their unique patrol flag. Patrol identity is critical to creating patrol spirit and unity. Competition between patrols heightens the comradery boys feel when they experience a crucible of a specific challenge or test of their abilities.

The patrol method also provides great leadership training and skill development when the boys meet in regularly scheduled patrol meetings. With your help and guidance through proper shadow leadership (as has been explained in my previous messages), the boys will be fully capable of leading and participating in these meetings. It is here where boys learn the skills they will need as future missionaries—planning, organizing, decision-making, delegating, demonstrating authority, listening, and communicating. Through trial and error, the boys become more proficient in leading meetings that get results. Patrol meetings are precursors to the district, zone, and other mission-related meetings these boys will be leading a few short years from now. Scouting is the perfect laboratory to learn how to return and report on one’s stewardship.

When your boys camp as a patrol unit, they learn to share responsibility and hold each other accountable for assignments given. As they cook, clean, and live together on overnight and week-long summer camps, they feel ownership and pride in their camp area. They learn to live in harmony with other boys who have different personalities and habits. The patrol method is perfect preparation for mission companionships.

Of course, the key to successful leadership is the assignment and fulfillment of leadership roles. Each patrol should have a patrol leader and other designated leadership responsibilities, such as the quartermaster, scribe, historian, and patrol chaplain. The senior patrol leader (SPL) ought to be leading every troop meeting and overseeing the patrol meetings. In most cases, with proper mentoring, the SPL can instruct the boys on the skill development topic introduced at weekly troop meetings.

I’m very serious when I tell adult Scouting leaders that their role at troop, team, and crew meetings and outdoor activities is to sit in a lawn chair and marvel at what happens when the adult gets out of the way of the boys. If you fulfill your leadership role well—working with the SPL, team captain, or crew president before and after each meeting and activity—you will see how boys rise up as men of God and take upon them the mantle of leadership. You will see how exquisitely the patrol method prepares these young men to be missionaries and the future priesthood leaders of the Church.

Take a Moment to Reflect

  • Are your boys organized into patrols?
  • Have senior patrol leaders, assistant senior patrol leaders, patrol leaders, assistant patrol leaders, and other patrol leadership roles been assigned?
  •  Does each patrol have a unique patrol identity with a patrol name, motto, yell, and flag?
  •  Have you taught your boys how to lead patrol meetings? Are you letting the boys lead their patrols?
  •  Do you stay in your lawn chair and let the boys learn through trial and error?
  •  Are you briefing and de-briefing the boy leaders before and after activities to strengthen them in their leadership capabilities?

Turn Your Reflection Into Action

  • What will you start doing, stop doing, or do better as a result of your reflection?


“The only way to develop leadership in a boy is to give him a chance to practice it. The patrol method provides this practice by placing upon the boys themselves the responsibility of running their own gangs, of making them—or breaking them. It gives the boys the opportunity to lead. It brings forward boys of decided leadership abilities and awakens in others their latent powers. It gives to all of them their chance.” (William Hillcourt, “The ONLY Method,”).

-Mac McIntire is a dedicated Scouter who has blessed many lives through his service and acute understanding of the Scouting program. He currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.